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University of Arizona professor tracks UA students' CatCard usage to predict freshman retention

Posted at 3:25 PM, Apr 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-19 19:21:10-04

University of Arizona's Eller College of Management professor Sudha Ram is working on research to make better predictions about freshman retention rates by using students' CatCard usage. 

UA's CatCard can be used at nearly 700 different spots on campus including the library, the Student Recreation Center and to purchase food. 

Professor Ram tracks the card's usage to study students' social interactions and daily routines to predict a dropout rate.


A University of Arizona Professor is tracking students via their CatCard usage to predict freshman retention. Priscilla Casper KGUN9 is live on campus getting student reaction.

Posted by KGUN 9 On Your Side on Thursday, April 19, 2018

"Student retention is a very important issue for most public universities and this is a problem that has been studied for the last 40 years," she said. 

She explained the gathered data is anonymous and doesn't identify a student in any way. 

"Think of it as having a time stamp where they are checking in and when they are checking in," she said. "We made an algorithm to figure out if we can extract people's social interaction patterns based on if they are checking into the same place within a certain time window and they are doing it on a regular basis."

She analyzes the check-ins for a 12-week period.

Ram says students who have less-established routines and fewer social interactions on campus are at risk of leaving. 

Her research was able to identify about 85% of all the students who will drop out. 

Some freshman students on campus say they don't mind being part of the research and don't see it as invading their privacy.

"I feel it is our responsibility when we bring students into a university... we want to have them enjoy their time, learn and also graduate with a degree," Ram said. 

She says the next step is for the university to take the results and decide how they would like to use them.